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Given the Bute | Defence of the Realm | Kigali we have lift off

In a week that started out with a major defence announcement and a Government victory on its flagship immigration policy, all eyes turned to Scotland as Humza Yousaf’s career teeters on a knife edge. By this time next week we could have a new First Minister or even an imminent Scottish Parliament election. They say a week is a long time in politics…


Welcome to the weekly roundup from Navigate Politics, bringing you all the top news, publications and movements from UK politics over the past seven days, ensuring you’re fully briefed on the top stories ahead of the weekend. If you know somebody who would find this briefing useful, please do forward it on so they can subscribe and get it direct to their inbox each Friday.


Driving the Week 🚨


Humza Yousaf’s future as Scotland’s First Minister is on the line after he ended the Scottish Government’s power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens, saying “the balance has shifted” and the SNP needs “freedom and flexibility to move Scotland forward”. Much to the Scottish Greens dismay, co-leader Lorna Slater argued that it was “an act of political cowardice by the SNP” and accused the party of selling out future generations and betraying the electorate. Whilst Yousaf hoped the announcement would mark a “new beginning” for the SNP Government, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross submitted a vote of no confidence in the First Minister just three hours later, stating it was “the beginning of the end”. The Scottish Greens and Lib Dems have confirmed they will support the vote which is expected next week, with Scottish Labour going further in submitting a vote of no confidence in the entire Scottish Government, which could lead to an election if it succeeds. However, Yousaf has said he will not resign as First Minister and was confident he will win the vote, adding he will write to opposition party leaders in an attempt to “make minority government work”.


Defence Spending will reach 2.5% of GDP by 2030 after the Prime Minister undertook a quick tour of Europe to set out his ambition for the UK to be “by far the largest defence power in Europe”. The plans, set out in a Paper titled ‘Defending Britain’, include an additional £10bn on munitions to ensure there is rapid production capacity and increased stockpiles; the ringfencing of ‘at least’ 5% of the Defence budget for Research and Development from 2025-26; and the establishment of a Defence Innovation Agency. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine cited as one reason for the announcement, a £500m military support package was also confirmed, and the UK will send 400 vehicles, 1,600 munitions and 4 million rounds of ammunition to the war-torn nation. Although the exact numbers have been somewhat disputed, the Government say their plans will see Defence receive an additional £75-77bn by the end of the decade, with annual defence spending totalling £87bn by 2030.


Flights to Rwanda could take off in 10-12 weeks, after the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill finally completed its passage through Parliament. The House of Lords eventually dropped its insistence on amendments, with Lord Anderson of Ipswich concluding it was time to “acknowledge the primacy of the elected House”. The Lords passed the Bill in the early hours of Tuesday Morning, with the Prime Minister calling it a “step forward” and a “fundamental change in the global equation on migration”. In a press conference on Monday morning he announced the first flight would “leave “in 10 to 12 weeks”, confirming an airfield was on standby and commercial charter planes had been booked for specific flights.


Coming Up Next Week 📆


In the Commons – The Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill and the Automated Vehicles Bill are both set to complete their remaining stages in the Commons, along with consideration of Lords amendments to the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill. There will also be debates on pension schemes, youth homelessness, the sport horse industry and assisted dying.


In the Lords – Committee stage scrutiny will be in full swing in the Lords next week, as they consider: the Genocide (Prevention and Response) Bill, Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, Litigation Funding Agreements (Enforceability) Bill and the Alternative Investment Fund Designation Bill. The Victims and Prisoners Bill will also continue its report stage.


On Committee Corridor – Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron will give evidence to the International Relations and Defence Committee, whilst FCDO Minister David Rutley will give evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee on the inquiry ‘Negotiations with the EU in respect of Gibraltar’. Legal Migration Minister Tom Pursglove and Transport Minister Guy Opperman will be also questioned by the European Scrutiny Committee, as it wraps up oral evidence for its inquiry into the implications of the introduction of EU entry/exit checks at the border.


Voters will head to the ballot box on Thursday for local, mayoral and PPC elections. The Blackpool South by-election will also take place following the resignation of former Conservative MP Scott Benton.


The Week in Stats 📉


20 – the number of male Conservative MPs who have been suspended since the last General Election.


0 – the number of female Conservative MPs who have been suspended since the last General Election.


03:26:54 – the time set by Alun Cairns, this year’s fastest MP in the London Marathon.


104 – the number of MPs who earn over £10,000 a year as landlords.


2.5% - The Government’s planned expenditure on defence as a proportion of GDP by 2030.


-2 – The number of Scottish Greens to leave Government and the number of votes the SNP is short of in order to hold a majority administration, now the power sharing agreement has been ended.


23,360 – The number of new houses/flat on which building work started in the last three months of 2023 – the second lowest number for a three month period since records began in 1978 (the lowest being immediately after the stock market crash in 2008).


2 million – The number of people in England and Scotland experiencing long COVID symptoms in February, according to the latest stats.


Other Political News 📰


Labour fleshed out its rail nationalisation plans, with the Shadow Transport Secretary setting out how the party would bring the system back into public ownership as private contracts expire; establish Great British Railways as the ‘guiding mind’ of the rail system; and deliver simplified fares and ticketing, with a ‘best fare’ guarantee. She also pledged to “reset industrial relations on the railways”. Aside from the renationalisation proposals, the plans are generally similar to the Government’s proposals in 2021 and have since been endorsed by the independent chair who undertook the review.   


The Government’s housing legislation finally made some progress, with both the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill and Renters (Reform) Bill both (finally) receiving substantial parliamentary time. However, both have been watered down significantly, with the former now only phasing ground rent out on leaseholds over the next 20 years; while the latter, in the face of backbench Conservative opposition, has been derided for banning no-fault evictions ‘in name only’. It puts the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto pledge to outlaw such evictions in jeopardy.


The Foreign Secretary undertook a trip to central Asia, visiting Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia in an effort to stop Russia side-stepping sanctions by importing goods through them. It is the first ever trip by a Foreign Secretary to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, and the first to Uzbekistan since 1997.


Environmental announcements flew under the radar, as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced that the implementation of deposit return scheme (in which consumers are given financial incentives to recycle empty drinks containers) would be pushed back from 2025 to 2027, with legislation to progress the scheme being brought forward ‘when parliamentary time allows’. Meanwhile, the Department for Transport set out its Sustainable Aviation Fuel mandate, which will require 10% of all jet fuel in flights taking off from the UK to come from sustainable sources by 2030.


A new row erupted over police handling of pro-Palestine protests, after a Jewish man was told he could not walk near a protest in London due to being “openly Jewish”. Despite a call from Suella Braverman for Met Police Commissioner Mark Rowley to go, and the Prime Minister declaring he was “appalled” by the incident, both Mayor of London and the Home Secretary stated their support for the commissioner. The Met later apologised to the man.


Around the World 🌍


President Biden signed of a $91bn package of aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, after it was approved by the Senate following months of deadlock. The package includes $6bn for Ukraine whilst Israel will receive $17bn, $9bn will go towards civilians suffering in conflict zones around the world, including Palestinians in Gaza, and $8bn will be given to allies in the Asia-Pacific, including Taiwan, to "counter communist China".


Biden this week also signed into law a Bill which gives ByteDance, the Chinese company which owns TikTok, nine months to divest the app or face it being blocked in the US. TikTok boss Shou Zi Chew responded to the Bill with… you guessed it… a TikTok stating “rest assured, we aren’t going anywhere”, stating that the freedom of expression allowed on TikTok match US values.


Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez suspended public duties to ‘stop and reflect’ on whether to remain in his job, after the announcement from court that they have opened a preliminary investigation into his wife, following claims of corruption. Sanchez has said he will make a decision on his future on Monday.


Norway’s King Harold announced he will scale back his participation in official duties due to age, at 88. He is one of Europe’s longest reigning monarchs, having been crowned in 1991. Harold was hospitalised in Malaysia in February, and has not been seen in public since the hospitalisation.


The Soloman Islands election was inconclusive, now leaving the pro-China Prime Minister in a race to form a coalition government. Of the 50 seat Parliament, the ruling OUR Party secured 15 seats, the main opposition parties 20, and independent and micro-parties took the remaining 15. Negotiations to form a Government are expected to last a couple of weeks. The outcomes of the negotiations will have a big impact on the country’s relationship with China, as in 2022 incumbent PM Sogavare agreed on a controversial security pact with China, and key opposition figure in the election Peter Kenilorea Jr has promised to switch ties back to Taiwan.


North Macedonia’s presidential election was also inconclusive, as centre-right opposition figure Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova received the most votes at 40.1%. In the absence of a majority, Siljanovska-Davkova and incumbent President Stevo Pendarovski will face a second vote on 8 May, coinciding with the more important parliamentary elections in the country that day. If Siljanovska-Davkova is successful, she will be the first female President in the country.


Dominica’s High Court overturned a ban on consensual same-sex relations, ruling that parts of the law that criminalised same sex activity went against the country’s constitution, breaching the right to liberty, freedom of expression and protection of personal privacy. Laws criminalising sexual activity between a same sex couple were first imposed in the Caribbean nations by the British under their rule in the 1800s.


Haiti’s prime minister resigned as increasing violence grips the country, with a transitional council established to rule in his place. His plane had been blocked from returning the country in March as criminal gangs seized power across much of the country, which has now descended into anarchy. The transitional council has a mandate to (attempt to) rule the country until February 2026.


Highlights from Parliament 🏛


The Commons saw the return of one of the Government’s key housing bills this week as the Renters (Reform) Bill passed its remaining stages. The Bill, which finally returned to the Commons for its report stage – 147 days after the committee stage concluded and with 200 amendments tabled for debate – now moves to the Lords. The Football Governance Bill also held its second reading, and to round the week off a series of private members’ bills had their remaining stages before transferring to the Lords.


The Lords also scrutinised housing legislation as the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill began its committee stage in the upper house. The Artificial Intelligence (Regulation) Bill was also in committee, and ping pong continued on Monday between both chambers as the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act 2024 completed its final stages in Parliament. The Act received Royal Assent along with the Pedicabs (London) Act and the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Act.


Committee Corridor 📜


The student loans system is wide open to fraud with risks to both students and taxpayers, the Public Accounts Committee concluded in its first report out this week, which warns of a lack of oversight of ‘franchised providers’ – institutions providing courses on behalf of universities as part of a commercial partnership, or franchise.


The Government must urgently improve governance and transparency at freeports and investment zones, the Business and Trade Committee have argued in a report which called out the Government’s failure to publish impact assessments for freeports making it ‘impossible to accurately assess’ whether they or investment zones provided the best value for money.


DWP must better support benefit claimants transferring from older, legacy benefits onto Universal Credit, the Public Accounts Committee stressed in its second report of the week, in which it reiterated warnings over fraud and error rates and expressed scepticism on Universal Credit’s hoped-for economic benefits.


Key Movements 🔁


Patrick Harvie MSP and Lorna Slater MSP were sacked as Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants' Rights and Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity respectfully, when Humza Yousaf MSP ended the Bute House Agreement.


Patrick Brown, Alliance Party MLA for South Down in the Northern Ireland Assembly, resigned for “personal reasons”. The Alliance Party is due to announce his replacement soon.


Paul Holmes MP has been appointed an Assistant Government Whip in place of Ruth Edwards MP who resigned from the Government.


General Gwyn Jenkins has been appointed the new National Security Adviser replacing Sir Tim Barrow who is being tipped as the new ambassador to the USA.


Liz Oakes has been appointed and Carolyn Wilkins has been reappointed as external members of the Financial Policy Committee.


This Week’s Polls 📊


Just 26% of voters think the Rwanda scheme will make a “real difference” to the number of illegal migrants coming to the UK, a poll by We Think for the Byline Times revealed this week, compared to 54% who don’t think it will. The figure rises to 44% among current Conservative voters, but even then, just as many feel the opposite way.


Labour are currently poling double the Tories’ vote share, according to YouGov’s latest polling intention figures, which place Keir Starmer’s party on 45% compared to Sunak’s 20%. Reform are down slightly on their high of 16% a month ago, at 13%.


Think-Tanking 💭


The Institute for Fiscal Studies published a paper on how the gender of supervisors early in one’s career affects the subsequent choice of finely-defined occupations, a paper on the impact of police station closures on violent crimes, and a paper on gender conformity since the late 1960s.


The Centre for Policy Studies published a report on the future of regulation showing that between 2010 and 2019, gross annual costs to business increased by £35bn.


The Resolution Foundation published a paper on how to decarbonise electricity without disadvantaging poorer families and a paper looking at why employers use flexible contracts.


RUSI published a paper on lessons from the response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.


The Institute for Government published a report on how select committees can better hold regulators to account.


Policy Exchange published a report arguing the term Islamophobia is being regularly misused to silence open debate about contemporary issues.


You’ve Got to Laugh 😂


The “weird and the wealthy”… These are the people former Prime Minister Tony Blair warned are coming into politics in an interview with The Times this week. Well, according to Sky News latest analysis of the register of members’ financial interests, which revealed 104 MPs – 16% – earn from than £10,000 a year as landlords, the latter of those is definitely already true. According to the latest HMRC stats, there are 2.82 million landlords in the UK – roughly 5% of the UK’s adult population. So, MPs are three times more likely to be landlords than the UK population. Parliament: putting the wealthy into “weird and wealthy”.


Question Time is bad enough as it is to watch in a normal week, but the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire needed a seriously large fire extinguisher to put out the car crash that was his appearance on the show on Thursday night. Whether he knew the Democratic Republic of Congo is a separate country to Rwanda or just got confused in the moment is still unclear, but either way, his response to the audience member’s question was immediately pinging its way around the internet. Labour made the most of it on Thursday night and Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting’s side-eye had already been clipped up and added to WhatsApp’s gif selection by Friday morning.


⚽ It’s not been a great week for Liverpool FC… almost as soon their title hopes had gone down the pan after Everton’s first win at home in the Liverpool Derby since 2010 on Wednesday night (Editor’s note: Someone give Sean Dyche a knighthood)… news emerged that former Liverpool FC Captain John Barnes has been disqualified as a company director for three and a half years after his company – John Barnes Media Limited – failed to pay over £190,000 in corporation tax and VAT. The media coverage the Insolvency Service’s press release caused almost trumped Rishi’s defence spending announcement, which probably says more about the state of our politics and media than anything else…

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